Carrollton: 8115 Jeannette St.
Former home of Shigure, Ninja, Mango House, Carolina, Iris, Boucherie, and perhaps one or two more restaurants
One of these days, when I have a lot of time on my hands, I’m going to write a top-dozen list of the addresses around town where the greatest number of restaurants came and went over the years. Spoiler alert: #1 will almost certainly be the downtown-river corner of Prytania at Robert Streets, where over a dozen different restaurants–some of them very good–failed to pass the test of time.
The converted, stucco-clad house a half-block off South Carrollton Avenue on Jeannette will probably make it onto this curious list. At least six restaurants operated there in the time since it was last somebody’s home.
The first of these, opening in 1989, was Shigure, a sushi bar. The small rooms were handsome but clearly residential, and a very tight fit for restaurant dining room purposes. That would prove to be a condition that every subsequent occupant had to wrestle with. The rooms were finished with dark, varnished wood, giving it a distinctly non-Asian look.
But nobody cared much about that. The sushi craze was pushing toward a peak, only a few years since the first New Orleans sushi bars had opened. The proximity of the place to the university section brought in a host of novelty-seekers who were trying to learn the ins and outs of eating raw fish. “After some failed experiments in Sino-Creole cuisine, [Shigure] has become a reliable, somewhat quirky Japanese restaurant and sushi bar,” says my review in 1990.
The review also notes that Shigure was drawing a lot of customers for edamame, the warm, slippery green soybeans, served in their pods as an appetizer. Shigure was the first restaurant in these parts to serve edamame. It is now a universal item on almost all Asian menus.
The review closes with “Service is carried out by intelligent and friendly Western waitresses,” telling us that the census of ethnic Japanese people who wanted to slice raw fish had outstripped the demand for their skills.
Ninja followed Shigure, and was even better–enough to have people standing around on the sidewalk waiting for any place at the sushi bar or table. A new problem appeared: people often parked their cars in what looked like perfectly good curbside spaces, but which overlapped the streetcar tracks that connected the Charley Car to its barn. An uproar of ringing bells or worse erupted. There were collisions. (Any contact between a car and a streetcar will always be won by the streetcar. They built them heavy in 1923.)
In 2004, Ninja moved to its present Oak Street location. It was succeeded at 8115 Jeannette by the Mango House, a Caribbean restaurant. Restaurants serving the food of the islands have only lately existed in New Orleans–perhaps because out own local cuisine is so similar to those in the Caribbean. I went to Mango House twice but never wrote a full review of it. I recall that it was pretty good for a Jamaican-plus eatery in New Orleans, but much reworked for American palates. Mango House didn’t last much more than a year, and I have no idea what happened to its staff.
My memory is even fuzzier about Carolina, the next occupant of 8115 Jeannette. It was also a purveyor of island food, and for all I know it might have been at least partly the same people. (Or it might have been the owners of Lebanon’s Café, which by now had bought up all the restaurant properties on that corner.)
That experiment ended with Katrina. Like many other things in New Orleans, 8115 rebooted with a new restaurant. Quite a good one, at that. Iris was the creation of partners and spouses Ian Schnoebelen and Laurie Casebonne, who had just come from Lilette. Their food was outstanding and original, the best ever in the stucco house.
Iris’s success made the space limitations even more obvious. The tables were so small that if you had four people seated with their plates, forks, glassware and napkins, there was no place to put the wine bottle or the butter plate. Iris was here a few years, then decamped to the French Quarter. It closed last year, making it eligible for a more detailed Extinct Restaurant piece. Ian and Laurie now operate the chic warehouse restaurant Mariza, next to NOCCA.
The next restaurant in line for 8115 Jeanette was Boucherie, a phenomenally successful, very hip place rooted in the food-truck phenomenon and the barbecue boom. Why do so many great eateries try to shoehorn their operations into this little place? It’s still a mystery. Boucherie will shortly reopen around the corner on South Carrollton.
Who knows what will squeeze into the former bedrooms of the House Just Off The Streetcar Tracks?